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Salem panel looks at zoning issues

SALEM — A Madison Avenue family whose back yard fronts Fair Avenue may get a way to seek a variance to put up a fence if city council approves new powers for the Board of Zoning Appeals.

William Caldwell and his wife had approached city council in July about their predicament after learning they couldn’t erect a fence for privacy or safety for their children in their back yard because it’s zoned like they have two front yards due to the way the lot is situated. The front of their property fronts South Madison and the back yard fronts Fair Avenue.

They were told they couldn’t seek a variance for the fence because it didn’t fall under any of the available categories for the Board of Zoning Appeals to consider.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the Rules & Ordinances Committee which met Tuesday, said they had three choices: do nothing, change the entire ordinance related to fences or expand the powers of the Board of Zoning Appeals so issues such as this one can be considered.

She didn’t want to overhaul the whole ordinance, but favored the idea of expanding what the Board of Zoning Appeals can consider. Councilman Andrew Null, another member of the committee, agreed that it seemed the most logical solution rather than blowing up the whole ordinance regarding fences.

Councilman Jake Gano, who attended electronically, also agreed.

City Law Director Brooke Zellers said adding fences to the list of possible variances has been discussed before, but a concern was that this would open up all fence projects rejected by the zoning officer to variance requests, inundating the volunteer board.

Mayor John Berlin suggested narrowing the possibility of a variance for a fence to properties with frontage on two streets, which Zellers thought was a great suggestion.

The committee agreed to recommend widening the Board of Zoning Appeals powers to include variances for fences on properties with frontage on two streets that don’t intersect (not a corner property). This way the Caldwells can seek their fence and neighbors will be contacted when the request comes before the Board of Zoning Appeals, if council approves the committee recommendation.

In other business, the committee again discussed language issues with a proposed ordinance change related to front yard parking on existing driveways, regardless of whether there’s a garage or not. At the last council meeting, three ordinances related to the issue were scheduled for passage, but council only passed two and tabled the third after Berlin raised some language questions.

He said a section that was being removed from one of the ordinances needs to stay regarding not parking in front of a dwelling.

“You can’t put a driveway up to your living room window,” he said.

He was concerned that taking the one section out would complicate the job of Zoning Officer Chip Hank when he’s telling someone where they can park for new construction.

All the council members present expressed being confused by some of the language and discussion, so the decision was made to table the proposed ordinance change to give everyone a chance to study it further.

The committee required no action on a third issue they discussed, advising North Ellsworth Avenue property owner Ethan Altomare that he could replat his property into two parcels for what’s called a flag lot and present the replat to the city Planning Commission for their consideration.

Altomare wants to build a home farther back from the road, about 400 to 500 feet back into the woods, but the current code says the setback is 30 feet because his home would have to line up with the neighboring homes. Zellers said this situation has happened before on Highland Avenue.

Altomare’s neighbor, Dave Bedell, said he went around the neighborhood checking with neighbors and nobody had a problem with Altomare building back in the woods.

When the replat is presented to the city Planning Commission, neighbors will have a chance to comment.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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